Study on Athletes
March 4, 2011
A study conducted on world-class athletes in Norway that used the Brain Integration Scale developed by MUM faculty researcher Fred Travis found that, compared to normal athletes, those competing at the highest levels have higher levels of brain integration, suggesting that higher psycho-physiological growth underlies higher performance.
Conducted by visiting professor Harald Harung and faculty researcher Fred Travis, the study compared 33 athletes who placed among the 10 best performers in major competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships for at least three seasons and compared them with 33 athletes who actively train and compete at a senior level but don’t normally place among the top 50% in the Norwegian Championships.
The world-class athletes also scored higher on measures of self- and moral development, and rate of habituation to a sound.
“These results are very interesting to us, as they show a clear correlation between mind-brain development and peak performance,” Dr. Harung said. “As we have long hypothesized, achieving one’s full potential is intimately related to developing one’s brain integration.”
He said that the level of brain integration in world-class athletes is similar to that seen in individuals who had practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique for an average of seven years.
Dr. Travis’s Brain Integration Scale was first developed to measure the long-term effects of the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. The scale looks at three brain measures:
1) broadband frontal EEG coherence, a measure of coordinated functioning of frontal executive brain areas; 2) higher alpha and lower gamma frontal and central EEG power, a processing style characterized by inner directedness and less absorption in outer boundaries; and 3) contingent negative variation during reaction time tests, which is a measure of efficiency of applying mental and motor resources to the task.
“These results are consistent with those that we’ve found in world-class managers,” Dr. Harung said. “This scale actually may show how the brains of top performers in any field are different from those of others.” He said that there are interesting applications of this, such as helping to identify potential top athletes or managerial candidates, or using a method such as the Transcendental Meditation technique to culture that style of functioning in the brain to reach one’s full potential.
Many of the athletes, especially the top performers, reported well articulated peak experiences, but there was no significant difference between the two groups.
The study is being published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Other MUM coauthors included Ragnhild Boes and Ken Daley.